Thought for the Day – 16 August – Friday of the Nineteenth week in Ordinary Time, Year C and The Memorial of St Step hen of Hungary (c 975- 1038)
At the turn of the second millenniu m, St Stephen succeeded his father as leader of the Magyars in Hungary. Looking to strengthen his authority, he determined to consolidate the state and extend Christianity throughout the land. In 1001 he arranged to have Pope Sylvester II name him king of Hungary. The pope obliged. As an additional sign of support, Sylvester had a special crown fashioned for Stephen that has become world famous.
Stephen extended his control over Hungary by restricting the power of the nobles. By creating dioceses and establishing monasteries, Stephen strengthened the church and positioned it for expansion. Politically, he aggressively used his power to establish Christianity as Hungary’s religion. He ruthlessly abolished pagan customs, outlawing adultery and blasphemy. Stephen ordered everyone to marry, except religiou, and forbade marriages between Christians and pagans.
But Stephen had a kinder, gentler side. Like St Louis IX, he made himself accessible to his people. He also took personal concern for the poor . He used to walk the streets in disguise so he could give alms to needy people. Once he barely escaped when some beggars beat and robbed him. But he refused to stop the practice. Stephen was a family man. In 1015 he had married Gisela, the sister of emperor St Henry II. The couple had one son, Emeric, whom Stephen groomed as his successor. In the following letter to his son, Stephen lays out his vision of what a Christian monarch must be. His counsel remains a letter to us all. For this and your intercession, we bless and thank you St Stephen!
“My dearest son, if you desire to honour the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, in the royal palace – after the faith itself – the Church holds second place, first propagated as she was by our head, Christ, then transplanted, firmly constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers. And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient.
However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom, the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted and for that reason, she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians, lest a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly, should be destroyed and annihilated, through your idleness, indolence or neglect.
My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful but also with the weak.
Finally be strong, lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily, bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust, like the pangs of death.
All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.”
Sadly, Emeric died in a hunting accident, leaving Stephen no successor.
In 1038, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Stephen delivered his final words to leaders of the Church and state, telling them to protect and spread the Catholic faith.
To the Virgin Mary, the king directed one of his final prayers:
“To thee, O Queen of heaven
and to thy guardianship,
I commend the holy Church,
all the bishops and the clergy,
the whole kingdom, its rulers and inhabitants
but before all, I commend my soul to thy care.”
St Stephen of Hungary died on Aug. 15, 1038. He was buried alongside his son St Emeric and the two were Canonised together in 1083.